Iron Man is one of the best movies to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe it helps that it came out at the start of the era for super hero movies. Maybe it helps that Robert Downey Jr. plays the main protagonist. And maybe it’s just because it’s a great story that is told well.
It’s an origin story, almost a coming of age story, if you will. As the film begins Tony Stark is really an anti-hero. Yes, he’s rich, yes, he’s smart, but he doesn’t take things seriously. He’s impulsive, he’s selfish, he’s out to have a good time. He acts irresponsible, because he thinks he’s invincible.
One of the main reason this movie holds up so well in the face of all the super hero movies is that this film has character. More specifically, it has a good character arc. It’s great story telling because it takes a character who acts invincible and puts him in a situation where he feels powerless.
Tony Stark steps up to the challenge. When he’s taken out of his element and his life is threatened, we see him put his talents to good use.
During his escape from the terrorists, Stark realizes the weapons his company makes, the ones that he’s been celebrating, are in the hands of the enemies too. He sees first hand the damages done to real people with stuff he’s responsible for creating. And he decides this isn’t okay.
Of course, changing the direction of a successful billion dollar international company is not easy. It doesn’t happen right away. And while Stark is working on his Iron Man suit, we find out that the leadership of the company is not only opposed to Stark’s new directives, they have been plotting against him the whole time.
This plot twist raises the stakes and we forces Tony to recognize that he has people in his life he doesn’t want to lose. People he’s willing to sacrifice his own life for. This is a dramatic change from the self centered billionaire we see at the start of the film. He’s now a character with depth.
Of course, Stark still has an ego, is still impulsive, and still acts like he’s invincible. And some of that is endearing. As spectators we smile when he goes off script and declares that he is indeed Iron Man. Because even though he’s obnoxious, we now know he’s willing to stand up for what’s right and for people who need it.
A decade later, Tony Stark has been in, or will have been in, 10 different Marvel super hero movies, and it has been fascinating to watch his character over time. Yes, in many ways he is still obnoxious, and a little impulsive. He still lives the billionaire lifestyle, still acts a little eccentric, though I have to wonder how much of that is only for show… because behind closed doors, when he’s talking with his team (The Avengers) he’s turned into a much more cautious, responsible person. We see him feel guilty over the death and destruction he has caused, even that which he caused unintentionally.
Cinematically, the special effects hold up quite well, even after a decade. The soundtrack is good, though the Marvel films tend to be a little bland. But what makes this movie great is that it’s a movie with character. And that’s why it’s worthy of all the hype it’s had over the past 10 years and why it’s still worth watching or rewatching today.